<
>

Major changes coming for Mavs

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks do not celebrate mediocrity.

OK, maybe they enjoyed shaving a few days ago.

But a franchise that popped champagne in Miami’s Club Liv a couple summers ago in celebration of an NBA championship doesn’t get giddy about going .500.

Granted, a 41-41 record is a fairly impressive accomplishment given that the Mavs were 10 games below in mid-January. They can be proud about putting up enough of a fight to be on the fringe of the playoff picture until the final week of the regular season. And at least they didn’t have their first losing season since 1999-2000, finishing even after a 99-87 win over the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans in Wednesday’s finale.

“Those are all good things, but I’m not gonna try to blow sunshine up your butt and try to tell you that we’re happy to be .500,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, putting things in perspective in typically colorful fashion. “That’s just not how things go here.”

Who knows how things are going to go this summer in Dallas?

This much is clear: Major changes are coming for the Mavs. Owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson can’t miss again this summer.

“We’re going to do everything possible to get back to where we need to be,” Cuban said before Wednesday’s win.

Eight or nine players from the Mavs’ final roster will be free agents, depending on whether O.J. Mayo exercises his option to return for a $4.2 million salary or tests the market for the second straight summer. Almost to a man, they say they’d like to be back in Dallas, but that’s not the way the business works.

The Mavs, depending on Mayo’s decision and the salary cap figure the NBA sets, will have somewhere between $13 million and $18.7 million in spending money this summer -- unless they create more space with salary-dump deals. They need significant upgrades to have a serious chance of competing at the level they had become accustomed to over the previous dozen seasons.

“I’ve been saying it all season long: It’s a big summer for us,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who is the only player guaranteed to return to Dallas next season. “We’ll see what Mark and Donnie can come up with. They’re always geniuses at making stuff happen. We need a big summer, obviously, to compete again for the championship and not for the eighth seed.”

It’s especially not the way the business works for a franchise embarrassed by being average and determined to get on the fast track back to contender status.

Carlisle, Cuban and Nelson are embracing the challenge of attempting to buck the odds with a quick rebuild. Nowitzki has committed to do whatever he can to aid the recruiting process.

Average is acceptable in some NBA cities. It’s a disaster in Dallas.

“You just get fired up to go to work and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Cuban said. “You can’t dwell, you can’t get mad. I’ve already broken up with this season, probably a game too early. I’ve already started the seven steps of recovery. I’ve been mad, and I’ll move forward."

“After tonight, it’s time to start looking forward to dating a new season," he said. "It’s been tough. It was definitely the date from hell.”

This is as far as the Mavs have been from guzzling bubbly in a long time. There’s no buzz, just a sick feeling in their stomachs.